Rookie WR fantasy player comps

Kevin Cole breaks down the best fantasy comps for the 2016 wide receiver draft class.

| 7 months ago
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Rookie WR fantasy player comps

The NFL draft is a little more than a month away, and prospect analysis is in full swing. From mock drafts, to film analysis, to quantitative models, there are opinions flying around about the 2016 class.

One of the easiest ways to put a prospect into context for the average NFL fan is to compare him to a current or former NFL player. If I tell you that Colorado State wide receiver Rashard Higgins is a smooth route runner, it’s helpful. But, directly comparing Higgins to an all-time great like Isaac Bruce gives the reader a much deeper, more tangible perspective on what type of player Higgins could become.

A major issue with player comparisons is that we’re more likely to think about high-profile hits or busts when searching through our mental rolodex of past players. This can contribute to extreme feelings on the likelihood of a prospect’s success, when the true range of outcomes includes not only great players and utter failures, but also middling performers.

A great way to keep our biases in check and come up with realistic player comparisons is to use the most objective data possible. We’ve already shown that draft age, career market share of receiving yards, final-year market share of receiving yards, touchdowns per game, and receiving efficiency (yards per reception) are predictive of NFL success for wide receiver prospects. So let’s take those numbers, in addition to a prospect’s physical profile (height, weight and 40-yard dash), and find the most comparable past NFL players.

Specifically, we’re going to use k-means clustering algorithm and divide all past and current NFL prospects from 2000-2016 into buckets based on the similarity of their collegiate production and physical measurables. Then, we can see where this year’s prospects fall, and learn a little more about their possible career paths by studying the current and former NFL players in the same bucket.

Name School Draft Year Draft Pos Draft Age Height Weight Forty Career Rec MS FY Rec MS FY TD/Gm FY Yds/Rec
Leonte Carroo Rutgers 2016 NA 22.4 72 211 4.50 0.36 0.49 1.25 20.7
Dez Bryant Oklahoma State 2010 24 22 74 225 4.52 0.35 0.60 1.33 19.0
Hakeem Nicks North Carolina 2009 29 21 73 212 4.51 0.38 0.46 0.92 18.0
Quincy Morgan Kansas State 2001 33 24 73 211 4.48 0.48 0.44 1.08 18.2
Justin McCareins Northern Illinois 2001 124 23 74 209 4.51 0.42 0.53 0.91 17.7

* MS = market share; FY = final year

While our draft team at PFF thinks that Leonte Carroo is a top-five wide receiver prospect and potential dynamic playmaker in the NFL, the larger draft community doesn’t share the enthusiasm. Carroo is the 11th ranked wide receiver prospect by NFL Draft Scout, placing his likely draft position in the third round. The unbiased numbers say that our analysis is more accurate. NFL successes like Dez Bryant and Hakeem Nicks top the list of Carroo’s comparables, with three of the four drafted in the first 35 picks.

Bryant is one of the NFL’s premier play-makers, but some might not remember how great Nicks was earlier in his career, averaging over 1,000 yards receiving and nine touchdowns during his second and third seasons. Carroo matches Nicks very closely in terms of size, speed, and production. If Carroo ends up being the next Hakeem Nicks, that’s not a poor outcome. Nicks was a rising star before a series of leg, ankle and foot injuries sapped his athleticism.

Quincy Morgan and Justin McCareins are two names from the more distant past, both entering the NFL in 2001. Neither receiver had a particularly distinguished career, but both were productive NFL players. Morgan had nearly 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns in his second year, and McCareins, despite a relatively low draft position, played for eight years and accumulated almost 4,000 receiving yards.

Carroo’s comparables are uniformly great perfect, but his solid physical profile, dominate collegiate market shares and touchdown scoring prowess all point to a successful, and possibly elite NFL career.

Name School Draft Year Draft Pos Draft Age Height Weight Forty Career Rec MS FY Rec MS FY TD/Gm FY Yds/Rec
Rashard Higgins Colorado State 2016 NA 21.7 73 196 4.64 0.35 0.39 0.67 14.3
Bobby Wade Arizona 2003 139 22 70 193 4.66 0.32 0.40 0.67 14.9
Ryan Grant Tulane 2014 142 24 72 199 4.64 0.26 0.46 0.69 13.5
David Anderson Colorado State 2006 251 23 71 192 4.57 0.32 0.36 0.67 14.2

Rashard Higgins doesn’t have comparables to match Carroo, with the highest drafted among them going in the fifth round. Bobby Wade was the only one to have a 500-plus-yard receiving season (he had two), but Ryan Grant is still playing.

We can’t say that Higgins has no shot at NFL success, but the combination of his smaller size and slower speed limits his upside, despite decent production numbers.

Name School Draft Year Draft Pos Draft Age Height Weight Forty Career Rec MS FY Rec MS FY TD/Gm FY Yds/Rec
Braxton Miller Ohio State 2016 NA 23.6 73 201 4.50 0.04 0.14 0.23 13.6
Andre King Miami (FL) 2001 245 28 73 199 4.61 0.09 0.06 0.10 13.7

Braxton Miller is a unique quarterback-turned-wide-receiver, so we shouldn’t expect former prospects to match him very well. The only receiver who entered the league between 2000-2015 that resembled Miller’s physical and production profile was Andre King. King totaled roughly 350 receiving yards in four NFL seasons, entering the league at 28 yards old after a stint in MLB’s farm system.

Miller is regarded as a phenomenal athlete, but his lack of receiving production makes him a high-risk selection.

Name School Draft Year Draft Pos Draft Age Height Weight Forty Career Rec MS FY Rec MS FY TD/Gm FY Yds/Rec
Sterling Shepard Oklahoma 2016 NA 23.4 70 194 4.48 0.24 0.32 0.85 15.0
Markus Wheaton Oregon State 2013 79 22 71 189 4.45 0.23 0.31 0.85 13.7
Dwayne Harris East Carolina 2011 176 24 70 203 4.53 0.25 0.27 0.77 11.1
Robert Herron Wyoming 2014 185 22 69 193 4.48 0.21 0.28 0.75 12.9

Sterling Shepard’s list of comparables has some names most would recognize, but nothing special. Markus Wheaton was a third round pick, took a step forward last year, and could break out with Martavis Bryant out for the year on violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.

Dwayne Harris has primarily been a kick returner in his five-year career, and Robert Herron was waived by the Buccaneers last pre-season after having only 58 receiving yards in his rookie year.

Name School Draft Year Draft Pos Draft Age Height Weight Forty Career Rec MS FY Rec MS FY TD/Gm FY Yds/Rec
Pharoh Cooper South Carolina 2016 NA 21.3 71 203 4.50 0.26 0.39 0.67 14.7
Donnie Avery Houston 2008 33 24 71 192 4.43 0.23 0.40 0.54 16.0
Chris Givens Wake Forest 2012 96 23 71 198 4.41 0.31 0.40 0.69 16.0
Lavon Brazill Ohio 2012 206 23 71 192 4.48 0.23 0.33 0.79 16.0

Pharoh Cooper didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, so I conservatively estimated his time at 4.5 seconds based on media reports. Cooper’s comps include some decent NFL contributors, like Donny Avery and Chris Givens, but no stars. Avery was an early second round pick, which would be a fantastic draft position for Cooper.

It is notable that Cooper’s comps are all lighter by five-to-11 pounds, so he could have more upside in the NFL, which is populated by bigger receivers.

We’ll tackle the top-tier prospects in the next post, including Laquon Treadwell, Josh Doctson and Michael Thomas.

Kevin Cole is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy. You can follow him on Twitter at @Cole_Kev

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